NBC’s bringing Night Court back, Deadline announced today. No, they haven’t figured out whatever kind of impasse has kept the classic sitcom from streaming anywhere. Instead they’re working on a sequel series, produced by and starring The Big Bang Theory’s Melissa Rauch as the daughter of Harry Anderson’s character from the 1980s original. John Larroquette will return as Dan Fielding, with other cast members from the original presumably also signing on. Dan Rubin, a writer on The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, will be handling the show, which focuses on Rauch’s character taking over her dad’s old post presiding over a New York court’s night shift.
This could totally be a good show. Maybe instead of remaking Night Court, though, they should just make the original watchable somewhere?
Night Court isn’t streaming anywhere. It’s not on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, CBS All Access, Disney+, Apple TV, Kanopy, Shudder, Crunchyroll, Acorn, BritBox, VRV, AMC+, Crave, DC Universe, Fox Nation, WWE Network, or even NBC’s own streamer, Peacock. It wasn’t even on Seeso. You can buy episodes or seasons online, but if you’re just a casual fan, or somebody who’s never seen it and want to check it out based on its reputation, you can’t find it on any streaming service you subscribe to—no matter how many you subscribe to. Watching Night Court in 2020 is neither easy nor cheap enough.
That’s disappointing. I’m not going to act like Night Court would be as big on streaming today as other old sitcoms like Seinfeld or Friends—hell, even Cheers, the most popular sitcom of the ‘80s and early ‘90s, and one of the two or three best ones ever made, has faded a bit despite streaming on multiple services for as long as streaming has been a thing, and Cheers was always bigger than Night Court. And I’m sure a lot of Night Court has aged terribly—you were never supposed to admire Dan Fielding and his philandering, but his insistent sexual harassment of basically every woman to ever enter the court is utterly out of step with the times now. But Night Court was huge in its day, running for nine seasons on NBC, often as part of the Must See TV lineup at its peak alongside shows like Cheers and The Cosby Show, and yet today it’s basically unknown to people who weren’t alive when it originally aired. It has no relevance and no cachet to audiences under the age of 35, and part of that problem has to be that it can’t be watched the way most people watch TV today.
Despite airing on NBC, Night Court wasn’t produced by the network and isn’t owned by NBC Universal. Warner Bros. owns the show, which means HBO Max would probably be the streamer most likely to carry it. Again: it doesn’t. NBC’s developing the reboot, though, which might make the streaming issue tricky. Will NBC pay what Warner Bros. would want to put the old show up on Peacock? Would Warner add the show to its streaming service, even if it would promote a revival on a rival network? It only makes sense that Night Court would become streaming in advance of a reboot, but clearly there’s been little interest in monetizing the original show over the last couple of decades. It barely even got released on DVD, with its first three seasons getting a wide release, and the final six—when the show was at its most popular—only being available in limited quantities direct from Warner Bros. Perhaps there’s just no demand for this old show, but then perhaps there would be more demand if it wasn’t so difficult to watch.
Night Court’s invisibility today highlights one of the biggest problems with streaming: it has no interest in history. If a show or movie is older and not one of the most popular and successful works ever made in its field, it’s generally hard to find it streaming today. It’s a bigger problem with movies—Hulu has a number of great sitcoms from the ‘60s through today, and CBS Max has its fair share too, whereas HBO Max is the only streamer with a quality library of great movies from before the 1990s—but as Night Court proves, even long-running hit TV shows can get overlooked by the streaming services. These massive media companies are focused on producing as much new content as possible that they fail to see the value in their catalogues, while also paradoxically exploiting nostalgia as much as possible.
This isn’t just bad because that means I can’t watch this one particular show I used to love, but because it distorts how these mediums and their history are remembered. It’s like that weird Spotify thing, where Spotify’s algorithms have redefined what some older bands’ biggest hits are by prioritizing songs that weren’t all that popular when they were released. Lack of access and visibility would reduce the legacy of even the most popular TV shows, and given that pop culture says a lot about who we are and what we believe as a people, it’s important to remember what was popular culture. Unfortunately in Night Court’s case it tells us that society was just totally cool with rampant sexism and harassment back in the ‘80s—not a surprise, but still disappointing—but it also reminds us that the ‘80s weren’t just about family sitcoms and soap opera luxury, but was also a time when smart, well-written ensemble comedies set in a somewhat recognizable world could be as popular as anything else on TV.
Also, though, it’s just a really funny show. Come on. Let us watch it.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, music, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.